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Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 3:37am

Cyberport is still a joke 10 years later

The government should leave hi-tech industries to the experts - venture capitalists

It's no Silicon Valley yet, but Cyberport is making strides to shed its image as an ill-conceived government venture, and becoming a hive for promising young technology companies in the city.

SCMP, July 29

I learned the truth about promising young technology companies in the city as an investment analyst years ago - shudder, horror. Run from them as fast as you can. How I wish I could take back those Buy recommendations I made on the likes of Atlas Industries and Conic Investments.

I can't say I hadn't been warned. If you are looking at industrials, go for the dull and simple stocks, older hands in the business had told me. The more boring the better. That's where the promise of the future lies.

Guru of the trade Peter Lynch of Fidelity Investment Management once put it this way: "I like the kind of company that any fool can run, on the grounds that sooner or later some fool will."

So when Donald the Bowtied proposed Cyberport in his 1999 budget speech, I think I had the immediate measure of this project, right from wincing at the proposed name - Cyber - which induced visions of teenage geeks absorbed in Japanese comic books. And I have never had occasion to change my mind, although Donald certainly has. The focus groups that were given the task of evaluating the idea after it had already been announced reported that they didn't see much point in it.

They said, for instance, that they didn't need a Cyberport technical library. They already had the Internet. They also didn't need shared laboratory facilities. Why give competitors an opening to spy on them? Nor did they value the technical support. Technology encompasses so wide a field of endeavour that no technical support was likely to be specific enough to be of any use.

They were wrong, of course. What was really on offer was ultra cheap rents and government "incubator" hand-outs that now run up to HK$530,000 a pop with no obligation to pay back on successful ideas. Do you want people to come to dinner? Ring the dinner bell.

Cyberport ... would have been best left as a mangrove swamp

Not that the literal version of the dinner idea has ever worked very well at Cyberport. My wife and I occasionally go there to watch a movie but when I then mention "dinner" and we then look at the echoing, deserted halls and the tired, empty eating shops, unchanged for 10 (rent free?) years, she invariably shakes her head. Cyberia, it's a lonely place.

But I digress. What is it that this Cyberport incubator attracts with its low rents? We start with the sales offices of companies clever enough to put words like "Technologies" and "Digital" in their names. Microsoft, a company obviously still in the incubation stage, is a tenant.

Then you get a host of app-writers. It's the latest thing in the advertising trade. Snare your customers while they're playing with their smartphones on the MTR, which they have been induced to do with idiot games to alleviate their boredom. Have you noticed how quiet the MTR has become in recent years? Now, I have nothing against idiot games if that is how people want to absorb themselves. That's their choice and not my business. But, equally, why should the government encourage this peculiar form of social engineering with public money?

Let's get it straight. There is nothing hi-tech here. It is distinctly low-tech. All we have is people using hi-tech advances made elsewhere for purely commercial purposes. I could probably train a monkey to play smartphone games. Does that turn the monkey into Albert Einstein?

If the government really wishes to encourage hi-tech industries, it would do best to leave the business to the experts - venture capitalists who are quite happy to see nine ideas go bust for every one that succeeds. They treat it as commerce, which it is, and not a means of transcendence to a higher state of being. So what is all this talk about Cyberport making strides to shed its image as an ill-conceived government venture?

This is no image. It's a fact. An ill-conceived government venture is what Cyberport always was, what it now is and what it will always be, a Donald folly that would have been best left as a mangrove swamp.

jake.vanderkamp@scmp.com

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This article is now closed to comments

SpeakFreely
Hk is. Low low tech city with no hope of hi tech. There is no venture capitals investing in Hk at all or almost close to zero. Simply because the city is too much relying on properties not creating incentive for doing hi tech. During the tech bubble many hk listed companies raised billions, to name a few, tom dot com, Smartone.s Sub, china dot com etc... But where is the money gone and what are they doing now? What I'm trying to say is hi tech never works in Hk. If u goto Silicon Valley u will see totally differently things as many start up are funded, investing from Vc there is equal to IPO money raised in Hk yearly.
The other sad thing is despite somehow Hk universities were ranked so high, if I am not mistaken HKUST was ranked almost top in IT worldwide or something like that but Hk IT is like a third world country. Many corp websites are horrible, and we don't even have a decent listing of IT company in in Hk w market cap of around 1B Usd. That is considered a small cap in Silicon Valley.
Wake up Hk ....
rpasea
My theory is msft went to cyberia in exchange for govt implementing draconian laws against software piracy: 5 years and $50k is pretty steep for using a sham shui po copy of Office.
StrongT
Cyberia, good old Donald!
taoscmplogin
The name itself conjures up the strangest of bedfellows: geeks, sailors and dockworkers. "Cyberport" had always been ill conceived and an obvious real estate exploitation play under the guise of the then dot com fever by an ultra ambitious HK scion and enfant terrible. Most people (myself included) only go there these days to watch movies and shop. Of course, there are lots of residents in the expensive apartment blocks and villas but I'm pretty sure none of them work there in hi-tech ventures or could have afforded it on the kind of shoestring budgets associated with fresh entrepreneurs. I know of a few big firms in the commercial units but all are well funded already and hardly the kind of start-ups you associate with a Silicon Valley or hi-tech community. Perhaps when (if?) the MTR station materialises in Cyberport, they should hold a competition on renaming the place. Now that would be interesting.
bluefirestorm
It is not a caption for the photo.
The usual style of this column is that it writes a few lines from a previous article published (usually from SCMP) a few days before and the columnist then tears apart the message that those few lines was trying to convey.
scmpgt
HK made the mistake of spending too much time and resources on quick-cash-real-estate-property. It forgot almost entirely about its tech industry.
Even cyberport was at one time another potential outlet for property tycoons to cash in. It never started off with a true passion in tech.
clk2828
I assure you there are a lot of promising native start-ups in HK, but its just that Cyberport doesn't have the Silicon Valley experts and true venturing successful entrepreneurs in the vetting panels to make the right decision to pick the good projects. If you look at the past accepted projects in their incubations, most of the approvals have gone to foreigners, and local companies which run by true native HK people don't really get to be in the scene and pool of benefits. These foreigners couldn't get funding in Silicon Valley so instead come to Cyberport, which leaves the true native start-ups left in the cold with no proper support (which the HK Gov's initiative was really to support local native tech people in the first place). The ratio of support to native vs foreigner created IT firms are not fair, and they claim these incubation programs have no quotas of acceptance and only pick promising ones, but in fact there is. This conflict of operation is very shady. There is no problem with foreign firms coming to Cyberport and help grow the IT scene, but if it has gone to the extend of stealing away all the benefits from native HK startups that the HK Gov wanted to promote at the very beginning (which seems like Cyberport is encouraging this kind of activity) with their failed project pitches from Silicon Valley, then this is very wrong. HK Gov should really do something about this, else its just tax payer's money burned into ashes for no real benefit to HK people !
KesslerHK
I am sorry, but have you actually been to the Cyberport Incubation Centre? You seem an awful lot like a disgruntled applicant to the Incubation Programme who saw his application getting rejected. Most incubatees are in-fact "native" startups (run by mostly permanent residents). With that said, I am not sure what the issue is with inviting foreigners to start their companies in Hong Kong, when they actually spend money and create jobs in the local economy. Hong Kong is mostly what it is because it allowed immigrants/refugees from Mainland China (and elsewhere) to settle there over the last 150 years. There are many other examples of thriving societies that have become what they are because they didn't close doors to migrants. Anyways, in the end the vetting process should not be biased and give everyone an equal chance. Oh and for the record, the government didn't invest a single dollar into Cyberport, but only provided the land. True, it's still a far cry from what it could be, but at least it's a start.
bluefirestorm
Cyberport is just like many other concepts/ideas hatched during the heady days of the dotcom bubble era. Most were ill-conceived as they were attempts to ride on the bandwagon. Attaching a cyber, .com, lower case e/i to a business name/project was also de rigueur.
If you transport yourself back to 1999, 56Kbps dial-up modem was the standard and if you had ISDN line you were on the cutting edge; and the term IT outsourcing had not yet entered into the business lexicon.
Giwaffe
HK is certainly not short of new idea generation. Just earlier this month, SCMP published an article about HKUST scientists inventing a new noise reducing material.
That being said, it is obvious that cheap rent is not the only prerequisite to growing a technology industry. Since no venture capitalists are willing to come to HK, perhaps the government can step in and play that particular role. There could be specific criteria or focus on certain fields to ensure money is better spent than on what some would consider frivolous social engineering experiments.
MajorMajor
The article pokes fun at Cyberport and says it's still a white elephant, yet the caption under the photo takes an entirely different tone ... slightly odd!
It's no Silicon Valley yet, but Cyberport is making strides to shed its image as an ill-conceived government venture, and becoming a hive for promising young technology companies in the city.
johnyuan
Should the land be redeveloped for housing? The infrastructure is all there. After all, profits were already racked in by the government from those 2000 plus houses (villas?).
jandajel
Cyberport/Cybeeria? Why not call it the University of Hong Kong West Campus. So many HKU people work there now, it sends staff buses to shuttle them back and forth to the main campus.
 
 
 
 
 

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